13 December 2002, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 30 November to 6 December 2002.
PUTIN AIDE CRITICIZES NATO EXPANSION...
Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii, speaking at a conference on Russia-NATO relations in Moscow on 6 December, emphasized that Russia "calmly disapproved" of NATO's decision last month to invite seven new countries, including the three Baltic states, to join the alliance, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said that NATO is a Cold War relic that has "revealed its inability to respond to new challenges," adding that Central European countries want to join "mostly because of their historical complexes." He claimed that unspecified surveys have shown "an overall public disapproval of NATO" among the populations of the seven invitees. He concluded that enlargement will weaken the alliance....AND SAYS THAT MOSCOW IS WATCHING THE BALTICS.
Yastrzhembskii also told the conference that once the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia join NATO, their attitude toward their Russian-speaking populations will change, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 December. He said that Moscow will "keep an eye" on developments. "The Russian public is very sensitive to the policies pursued regarding our compatriots in the Baltic states," he was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying.
* At a joint British, Baltic, and Georgian two-day seminar about NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) and BALTSEA project held in Estonia, representatives from the Georgian Defense and Foreign ministries expressed interest in military cooperation with the Baltic states, BNS reported on 4 December. Wishing to join NATO, Georgian officials were particularly interested in the Baltic experience in drafting MAPs.
* The Open Society Institute and the Jaan Tonisson Institute released on 5 December a report on the level of corruption in the 10 EU candidate countries, BNS reported. Corruption in Estonia was viewed as a "relatively limited problem" the level of which was lower than in the other states. Latvia is described as having a "major problem" and Lithuania a "serious problem" with corruption. According to public-opinions polls in Estonia, the most corrupt officials are political leaders and police officers, while Estonian authorities regard local governments, the Customs Board, and border guards as the most corrupt.
EU REFERENDUM PROPOSED FOR MID-SEPTEMBER.
The parliamentary Constitutional Committee recommended on 4 December that Estonia hold a referendum on accession to the European Union on 14 September 2003, ETA reported. The following day, committee Chairman Indrek Meelak said that it suggested the question, "Do you support accession to the European Union and adoption of amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia?" BNS reported. He said the ballot will first of all carry the text of a bill of constitutional amendments initiated by 74 lawmakers in May that allows Estonia to join the EU. It will be followed by the above-mentioned question and then the two answers, "Yes" and "No." The committee will send the draft resolution to the parliament recommending that it adopt it on 18 December.GOVERNMENT APPROVES HIKE IN MINIMUM WAGE.
Cabinet ministers on 3 December approved a nearly 17 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage, from the current 1,850 kroons ($120) to 2,160 kroons, to begin in January, ETA reported. The hourly minimum wage will thus rise from 10.95 kroons to 12.90 kroons. The decision cemented an agreement that the Central Organization of Estonian Trade Unions and the Estonian Employers Confederation signed with trade unions on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 October 2002). The two sides pledged in August 2001 to raise the minimum wage to 41 percent of average gross wages by 2008. This is the third hike in the minimum wage in as many years.MODERATES ELECT NEW LEADERS.
In Tallinn on 30 November, an extraordinary congress of the Moderates elected former Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar as the party's new chairman, BNS reported. He received 250 votes and parliamentary deputy Enn Tarto 33. Former Chairman Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted in his address to the congress that, although the party fared as well or even better in many local-council elections in October, the public categorized the parties as winners and losers mainly on the basis of the results in Tallinn, where the Moderates didn't win any seats, taking 4.9 percent of the vote and failing to overcome the 5 percent barrier for parliamentary representation. The congress elected two deputy chairmen: Katrin Saks with 108 votes and Ilves with 91 votes. It also approved its platform for the election campaign titled "Working Estonia," which calls for introducing a progressive income tax; an annual tri-party national income-policy agreement among the government, employers, and employees; and a childbirth payment of 50,000 kroons ($3,200) per child.CENTER PARTY FIRST TO PRESENT LIST OF CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.
The Center Party presented its list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections to the Central Election Committee on 2 December, BNS reported. It submitted the maximum number of allowed candidates, 125, for the elections, which will be held on 2 March. The 19 political parties eligible to run in the elections have to present their list of candidates by 16 January. The Center Party list is headed by party Chairman and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar. Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir is second, followed by parliamentary Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and head of the parliamentary Center faction Toomas Varek.UKRAINE'S ENTRY INTO EU, NATO BACKED.
Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland told visiting Ukrainian parliamentary Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn in Tallinn on 5 December that Estonia backs Ukraine's efforts to join NATO and the EU and is willing to share its experience gained during accession talks, BNS reported. She also pledged support for Ukrainian membership in the World Trade Organization, asserting, "It is in our common interest for the continuation of day-to-day, close trade." Lytvyn arrived in Tallinn the previous day at the head of a delegation from the Verkhovna Rada and, in talks with Estonian counterpart Toomas Savi, called for closer cooperation between the two legislatures. He also met with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, who noted that Ukraine's progress in economic and government reforms is in Estonia's interest.
* Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace arrived in Tallinn on 5 December for a three-day visit to study the development of the Estonian defense forces, BNS reported. After talks with defense forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts and Chief of Staff Colonel Alar Laneman on 6 December, he traveled to Paldiski to inspect the scouts battalion and the air force and surveillance center at Amari. Pace also had talks with Defense Minister Sven Mikser.
* Chief negotiator with the EU Alar Streimann said on 5 December that no progress had been made in talks in Brussels that day on the issues of increasing direct subsidies and agricultural quotas, BNS reported. He noted that at least two EU countries maintain that no agreements on quotas and money can be made before the EU summit in Copenhagen on 12-13 December.
* The Foreign Ministry intends to form a commission to collect applications from Estonian citizens who were persecuted by the Soviet regime in order to make a joint claim for compensation from Russia, ETA reported on 4 December. The law to demand compensation from Russia was introduced in parliament by deputy Enn Tarto.
* The government endorsed on 3 December an extensive agreement on military cooperation that is soon to be signed with Sweden, BNS reported. The agreement regulates bilateral defense cooperation, including the stay of Swedish military advisers and instructors in Estonia, and it makes provisions for joint efforts in the fields of training and education, organizational issues related to the defense forces, and high-level visits.
* The cabinet approved, and gave Culture Minister Margus Allikmaa the authority to sign, an agreement with the United States on the protection and preservation of cultural heritage on 3 December, BNS reported. The agreement is designed to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of all ethnic and religious groups inhabiting the territories of the two countries, including victims of the World War II genocide. The two states will set up a joint cultural-heritage committee that will draw up a list of objects and sites that need protection and preservation and see to their protection.
* The commission for the coordination of external resources, headed by Regional Affairs Minister Toivo Asmer, decided on 4 December to seek funding of 40 million euros ($40.7 million) from the EU's PHARE program for 19 projects, BNS reported the next day. The most important projects will be helping improve the administrative capacity of the border guards and police, as well as raising their efficiency in the fight against crime and drug trafficking.
* Customs officials in northeastern Estonia and Russia's regional customs authority agreed in talks on 5 December to carry out joint operations at customs checkpoints in Narva and Ivangorod next year, BNS reported the next day. They will be aimed primarily at finding narcotics, illegal cigarettes, and alcohol at the Narva-Ivangorod customs post and the Kreenholm pedestrian bridge.
* Reform Party Chairman and Prime Minister Siim Kallas in an article in "Postimees" of 3 December stated that the party's principal economic policy in the March parliamentary elections will call for lowering the personal-income-tax rate from 26 percent to 20 percent, BNS reported. Kallas admitted that this would result in a decline of 2 billion kroons ($130.6 million) in tax revenues but called for stopping increases in government spending and making the social safety network more efficient.
* An extraordinary congress of the Estonian Social-Democratic Labor Party on 30 November re-elected parliamentary deputy Tiit Toomsalu as the party's chairman, BNS reported. The congress decided to participate in the March parliamentary elections, but the party will determine in December if one of its planks in the party platform will oppose Estonia's EU membership. Toomsalu said that the party no longer opposes Estonia's membership in NATO since the duties and aims of the alliance have changed.
* Ida-Viru County Governor Rein Aidma sent a letter to the Kohtla-Jarve City Council on 4 December demanding that it revise its decision of 14 November to elect Valeri Korb as the city's mayor, BNS reported. Aidma stated that the election violated the provision of the public-service law forbidding the employment of a person who is under investigation for, or has been charged with, a criminal offense for which the law prescribes imprisonment. Korb has been charged with criminal misconduct, and his name has also cropped up in the trial of suspected murderers of a former member of the very same City Council.
* With 42 votes in favor, parliament adopted on 4 December a law increasing the excise tax on alcohol, tobacco, and fuel. The new rate will be applied to cigarettes and other tobacco products, fermented beverages, and heavy fuel oil beginning 1 April 2003, ETA reported. The aim of the new law is to harmonize the legislation on excises with the corresponding legislation of the European Union.
* The Statistics Office announced on 6 December that in November the consumer price index declined by 0.2 percent compared to October but increased by 3.1 percent compared to November 2001, ETA reported.
* The Statistics Office announced on 5 December that in October imports increased by 7.7 billion kroons ($490 million), or 10 percent, in comparison with September, while exports grew by 17 percent to 5.8 billion kroons, ETA reported. In both months, 57 percent of imports and 68 percent of exports were with EU states, while imports to CIS countries accounted for only 10 percent of total trade and exports 6 percent.
LATVIA BEGINS NATO ACCESSION TALKS.
A delegation led by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins and Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics opened Latvia's first round of entry consultations with NATO in Brussels on 4 December, BNS reported. Latvia is the first of the seven countries invited to join NATO at its recent summit in Prague to begin entry talks, the first step in an 18-month process that, it is hoped, will lead to admission into the alliance in early 2004. A second meeting is to take place on 11 December, at which time two of the more difficult issues in the entry talks -- Latvia's payments to the alliance budget and the steps Latvia needs to make to ensure NATO standards for information security -- will be addressed. A second round of entry consultations scheduled to begin in early 2003 will review specific reforms, including the fight against corruption, that Latvia will commit to carry out before joining the alliance.ADAMSONS CHARGED...
Former Saeima deputy Janis Adamsons was charged on 4 December with knowingly distributing false information concerning a parliamentary investigation he headed into the so-called pedophilia scandal, BNS reported. During a presentation in the Saeima, Adamsons alleged that several senior government officials, including then-Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, Prime Minister Andris Skele, Income Service chief Andris Sonciks, and postal-service director Aivars Droiskis, may have been involved in a pedophilia ring (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 21 February 2000). The Prosecutor-General's Office asked that Adamsons' immunity from prosecution be lifted, a request that was rejected by the Saeima in September 2000 (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 20 September 2000). Adamsons is officially charged with criminal exploitation of the prerogatives of his post resulting in serious consequences and if found guilty could be sentenced to eight years in prison....AND PLANS TO SUE.
Adamsons is planning to file suit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, accusing the Latvian government of illegally preventing him from standing for election in this past fall's parliamentary elections, according to LETA and TV5. Adamsons' name was stricken from the ballot on the basis of a March 2000 ruling by the Riga Zemgale District Court that found that he had been a staff officer of the Soviet-era KGB while serving as a political officer in the USSR Border Guards. That ruling served as the justification for a decision by the Central Election Commission, which was affirmed by the Riga Central District Court on 20 August 2002 and upheld by the Latvian Supreme Court's Senate on 9 September 2002, that Adamsons' candidacy would violate Latvia's lustration law (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 19 September 2002).LATVIAN NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK REPORTEDLY ASKS PUTIN FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM.
The Russian-language newspaper "Panorama Latvii" on 2 December wrote that Vladimirs Lindermans, chairman of the Latvian civic group Uzvara (Victory), which serves as a front for the Russian National Bolshevik movement, sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting political asylum, BNS reported. The letter was also signed by nine Russian Duma members of the Russian Regions group (among them "Black Colonel" Viktors Alksnis) and later received support from four Liberal Democratic Party of Russia deputies, including party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii. Lindermans, who is currently in Russia, has been charged along with three other Uzvara members with illegal possession of explosives and weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002), and another seven Uzvara supporters were detained on 27 November on suspicion of involvement in a plot to assassinate Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Lindermans denies the charges made against him, claiming that they have been fabricated in order to stop Uzvara's activities on behalf of accused Soviet-era war criminals, noncitizen rights, renter rights, and the renaming of a street in Riga named after former Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev. The Interior Ministry on 3 December petitioned the Riga Vidzeme District Court to dissolve Uzvara.OSCE MINORITIES COMMISSIONER VISITS.
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus began a three-day visit to Riga on 3 December, LETA reported. Prime Minister Einars Repse told him the next day that Latvia is ready "for constructive cooperation with the OSCE" and plans to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, although with some reservations to be specified in the future, BNS reported. With regard to increasing naturalization, he called this a question of motivating noncitizens, adding that Latvia's admission to the EU should provide an incentive. Ekeus expressed support for Latvia's public-integration policy, which should benefit from the establishment of the post of state minister for integration affairs. During his visit, he also held talks with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis, State Minister for Integration Affairs Mils Muiznieks, Naturalization Board Director Eizenija Aldermane, and parliamentary deputies from all parties.PREMIER EQUATES BUDGET VOTE WITH CONFIDENCE MEASURE.
Einars Repse told the parliamentary Budget and Finance Commission on 3 December that the 2003 budget will be drafted differently from previous budgets, saying the methods used in the past would lead to a deadlock and his center-right government's necessary objectives would be insufficiently financed, LETA reported. He said the budget should be qualitatively and quantitatively different from former budgets, cutting functions the state cannot afford, while ensuring that priority areas will receive full funding so that police officers, judges, teachers, and medical workers receive sufficient salaries. Among possible cuts, the rightist New Era party's Repse mentioned administration, services, and equipment purchases. Repse also called on parliament to abstain from amending the 2003 budget, saying it must be approved as a whole or rejected. He equated a rejection of the budget with a vote of no confidence in his government.CONFERENCE ON EUROPEAN COOPERATION HELD IN RIGA.
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the pro-NATO Latvian Trans-Atlantic Association, a nongovernmental organization, held an international conference on prospects for cooperation in Eastern and Western Europe in Riga on 6 December, LETA reported. In opening the conference, Latvian President Vike-Freiberga said there is still a long way to go before the common dream of stability and security on the entire European continent is achieved. She noted that the enlargement of NATO and the European Union helps ensure this, and she extended a special welcome to representatives from Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries seeking to join these organizations. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, U.S.-NATO Committee Chairman Bruce Jackson, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, and officials from Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Poland participated in the conference.PEOPLE'S PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN.
People's Party founder and leader Andris Skele unexpectedly told the party's congress in Riga on 30 November that he will not seek another term and urged it to elect former Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris as his replacement, LETA reported. Slakteris was then elected chairman, receiving 526 votes while Ainars Vasilis took 80. One hundred seventy-five ballots were declared invalid. Slakteris told the congress after his election that he does not foresee introducing any major changes in the party's work. Slakteris said that he hopes the People's Party becomes a position party in the parliament because there is no antagonism between the People's Party and the ruling coalition headed by the New Era party, and their cooperation in parliament could bring the parties closer.
* Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace arrived in Riga on 4 December to discuss bilateral military cooperation and to examine Latvia's plans for restructuring its army, BNS reported. The next day, he met with Prime Minister Repse, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, and defense chief Brigadier General Raimonds Graube. Pace also visited the armed-forces training center at Adazi and departed for the Estonian capital, Tallinn, the next day.
* In a meeting in Brussels on 2 December with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete discussed issues linked with the completion of EU membership negotiations, LETA reported. She said that, although some EU members objected to the better financial proposals for the candidates offered by Denmark, there should not be any delay in EU enlargement.
* Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said on 5 December that Latvia will try to reach an agreement with Estonia and Lithuania to raise their excise taxes on fuel simultaneously, BNS reported. He suggested that the three states raise the duty on 1 January 2004 and on 1 May 2004 when the duties should reach EU levels.
* In a meeting with Japanese Ambassador to Latvia Tomio Uchida on 2 December, Foreign Minister Kalniete said that current Latvian-Japanese cooperation can be regarded as the first step in development of bilateral relations, LETA reported. She expressed the hope that more Japanese businessmen and representatives of various business sectors would visit Latvia more often. Uchida congratulated Latvia on the recent NATO invitation and called for a more active political dialogue between the two countries.
* After finding traces of salmonella in Karums candies produced by the dairy company Rigas piensaimnieks, the Lithuanian State Food and Veterinary Service issued an order on 27 November banning the further import of candies and other products made by the company unless they have been tested at the National Veterinary Laboratory, LETA reported. After tests by experts from both countries at the company could not find any safety violations or traces of salmonella, the restrictions were lifted on 2 December.
* Sweden's TV4 television station broadcast a program on 5 December that accused Latvian fishermen with large-scale poaching in the Baltic Sea, LETA reported the next day. Using a hidden camera, Swedish television interviewed the director of Banga Seafood, who said that about 30-50 percent of the fish his company buys exceeds the set quotas and is thus illegal. Banga Seafood is owned by the Swedish company Skarhams and exports about a 1,000 tons of cod fillets annually to Sweden. Latvian Fisheries Association President Inarijs Voits said that Latvian fishermen never exceed their quotas.
* The first meeting of the council of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party on 30 November completed the formation of a new 19-member board and re-elected Janis Dinevics as the party's secretary general, LETA reported. In addition to the previously elected party chairman Dainis Ivans and his deputies, Viola Lazo and Valdis Lauskis, the board has eight members representing Riga and two each from the regions of Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale, and Latgale
* The committee and members of the Latvian Medical Care Trade Union decided on 5 December to demand that the salaries of nurses, midwives, doctors, and laboratory assistants be set at no less than 2 lats ($3.25) an hour, LETA reported. The union decided to call off another planned one-day strike, noting that nurses had not gained anything from the three earlier actions this year.
COMMISSION APPROVES CANDIDATE LISTS FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS.
Local election commissions published the lists of candidates for municipal-council elections in 60 cities and regions to be held on 22 December, BNS reported on 5 December. More than 10,000 people from 25 political parties will compete for 1,560 seats. The number of parties decreased from 26 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2002) to 25 because the Lithuanian Socialist Party, which was running solely in the city of Kaunas, failed to fulfill the requirement that lists contain at least 10 members after some of its candidates were disqualified and crossed off for not being permanent residents of Kaunas. The Central Election Commission also removed from the list of candidates 76 individuals who failed to mention in their candidacy applications that they were found guilty of crimes after 1991 or of serious crimes during the Soviet occupation. The Social Democratic Party and the New Union (Social Liberals) will run in 59 districts, the Christian Democrats in 55, the Farmers and New Democracy Union in 54, the Center Union in 52, and the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) and Liberal Democrats in 51.PARLIAMENT CANCELS SESSIONS TO MAKE WAY FOR CAMPAIGNING.
Although the constitution provides for parliament's fall session to last until 23 December, the legislature's board decided on 4 December not to convene any plenary sessions after 10 December, when the 2003 budget comes up for approval, BNS reported. The board cited a declining number of deputies in attendance as they campaign for the presidential or local elections to be held on 22 December. Nine deputies are running for president and about 80 are seeking seats on local councils. An extraordinary session may be called if pressing issues arise. Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Gintaras Steponavicius said parliament will continue the fall session in January, since it has so far debated just half of the issues included on the fall agenda.CHIEF EU NEGOTIATOR PREDICTS CONCLUSION OF EU ACCESSION TALKS.
Petras Austrevicius said he was virtually assured after a meeting with European Commission officials in Brussels on 2 December that Lithuania will complete the remaining EU membership negotiations on time and receive an invitation to join the EU in Copenhagen on 13 December, ELTA reported. He mentioned the acceptance of a Lithuanian proposal to increase EU aid for strengthening its borders to 136 million euros instead of the previously proposed 113 million euros, additional funding for closing the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, and greater agricultural support. Lithuania hoped to complete its accession talks with the EU by 9 December.NATIONAL AGREEMENT ON ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS SIGNED.
Ten major political parties and 14 public organizations uniting businessmen, youth, and the academic community signed a National Agreement on Economic and Social Progress in the Lithuanian parliament on 3 December, ELTA reported. The agreement envisages economic development through employing the state's own reserves and resources that will become available after Lithuania joins the EU. It emphasizes the importance of establishing a knowledge-based economy and the need for harmonizing its education and science systems with that of Western Europe. The impetus for such an agreement came from the opposition Conservative Party, which noted in the spring that Ireland produced a similar agreement in 1988 and now is ranked third in the EU in terms of per capita GDP.DEFENSE-COOPERATION ACCORD SIGNED WITH LUXEMBOURG.
Luxembourg's minister of cooperation, humanitarian actions, and defense, Charles Goerens, began his first visit to Vilnius on 2 December with a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus, BNS reported. The two discussed bilateral relations, the fight against terrorism, and the cooperation of small countries in NATO. Later, Goerens and Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius signed a defense-cooperation agreement that includes the areas of security and defense policy, democratic control of the armed forces, defense and budget planning, peacekeeping, and search and rescue, as well as humanitarian-assistance operations. Luxembourg has an army of just 900 servicemen, but its personnel have participated in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans since 1992.INTERPARLIAMENTARY FORUM ESTABLISHED WITH UKRAINE.
A delegation from the Ukrainian legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, headed by Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 3 December with a meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary head Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA reported. In a speech to lawmakers in the Seimas, Lytvyn announced that the countries' legislatures will establish a bilateral parliamentary forum similar to the one Lithuania has with the Kaliningrad Oblast's Duma. Valerijus Tretjakovas and Oleksandr Tretyakov, representatives of the respective parliaments, signed an agreement establishing the forum prior to an official dinner in honor of the visit. In subsequent talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Lytvyn discussed domestic- and foreign-policy issues and ongoing reforms. He expressed dissatisfaction with Ukraine's imminent status as an EU neighbor, noting that his country will seek to become an EU associate member. On 4 December, Lytvyn met with President Adamkus and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas before flying to the Estonian capital, Tallinn.'BUILDING A WIDER EUROPE' CONFERENCE HELD IN VILNIUS.
Some 50 high-ranking officials and experts from EU member and candidate states, as well as eastern neighbors, participated in the "Building a Wider Europe" conference on 30 November, ELTA and BNS reported. Among the Russian participants were President Putin's envoy to the EU on Kaliningrad and chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin; Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii; and Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov. Yavlinskii said bilateral relations will improve after Lithuania joins NATO and expressed the hope that, "NATO enlargement will eradicate old prejudices." Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said that the Baltic states' relations with their eastern neighbors will improve and become more stable after they join NATO. In addition, he said that in three or four years Sweden might even give up its neutrality and join the alliance.
* Officials of the Lithuanian and Russian Foreign Ministries' consular services prepared a new visa agreement in Moscow on 3 December, BNS reported the next day. It will provide free-of-charge visas to participants in sport and cultural events, people over the age of 60, the disabled, and people visiting relatives' graves in the neighboring country. Kaliningrad residents traveling to Russia proper will be issued long-term multi-entry visas valid for a year without invitation, as will Lithuanian nationals visiting Kaliningrad.
* Foreign Ministry State Secretary Evaldas Ignatavicius chaired the meetings of Lithuania's ambassadors and heads of consular institutions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in Moscow on 2 and 3 December, BNS reported. The participants debated the aims and priorities of Lithuania's foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, taking into consideration that Lithuania will soon join the EU and NATO.
* Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ignatavicius held consultations with U.S. officials in Washington on 4 and 5 December, BNS reported on 6 December. He had meetings with high-ranking officials of the U.S. State Department, National Security Service, and other institutions that deal with NATO enlargement; bilateral relations with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus; and cooperation between Lithuania and the United States. Ignatavicius emphasized that Lithuania will continue working to fulfill its NATO membership commitments.
* Deputy Foreign Minister Justas Vincas Paleckis told the international conference "Search for Partners in the World" in Helsinki on 4 December that Lithuanians have already begun to think on a regional scale and are learning to think on a European and trans-Atlantic scale, ELTA reported. He suggested that the United Nations should strengthen its cooperation with regional organizations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Paleckis called for speeding up the reforms of the UN Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Human Rights Commission
* The 141-seat parliament adopted on 3 December by a vote 66 to zero the recommendation of President Adamkus to advance the date from which the new public-procurements law would go into effect from the beginning of 2004 to 1 March 2003, BNS reported. It also approved by a vote of 39 to 1 with 30 abstentions a bill that would allow people already making payments to the state pension fund to increase their retirement income by also contributing to private pension and life-insurance companies.
* The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened criminal cases against three Lithuanians: Stepas Kuprys, Zenonas Garsva, and Juozas Mazeika, who are suspected of having participated in the murder of Jews and other war crimes in Belarus in the fall of 1941 while serving in the German-established Auxiliary Police Service, ELTA reported on 2 December. The three are believed to be living in Colombia and Venezuela, and the prosecutors have sent requests for legal assistance to both countries to confirm their identities and places of residence.
* The Vilnius Area Court on 4 December satisfied the prosecutor-general's request to extradite to Latvia 33-year-old Igor Gorban, a former serviceman of the Riga OMON (Soviet paramilitary force), who is accused of trying to overthrow the Latvian government in 1991, ELTA reported. Lithuanian border guards detained Gorban on an Interpol warrant on 31 October while arriving from Kaliningrad Oblast.
* The Labor Exchange announced on 5 December that there were 186,600 officially registered unemployed people on 1 December, or 4,300 more than a month earlier, BNS reported. The November unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percent over October to 10.7 percent. This was the first month that the unemployment rate increased this year and was 14.1 percent lower than on 1 December 2001.